Finding out that one of your close friends is dealing with a mental disease can be really hard. When one of my best friends told me about her severe depression, a million questions sprang to my mind. Wait…what? How long has this been going on? Are you alright? Is there anything I can do to help?
For a second, I felt like I was kept out of a big part of her life. I felt like maybe I didn’t know her as well as I originally thought. I mean, I should have noticed, right? Wrong. Often times, people dealing with mental diseases are very adept at hiding it. My best friend was the happy kind. She had a loving family, great friends, great grades, and a smile on her face all of the time. No one would have guessed she was secretly suicidal.
When she finally told me, I was tempted to look at her differently. I did for about ten minutes, until I realized how utterly stupid I was being. She was still my best friend. Nothing at all had changed, now I was just more aware.
A lot of people are tempted to tread carefully around people with mental disorders, specifically depression. No one wants to upset them or make them unhappy in any way. The truth of the matter is that that’s life. Regardless of what you’re dealing with or what the people around you are dealing with, it’s impossible to be happy every second of every day. We live in a world of chaos and pain, but also one of love and joy. You can’t protect someone from it all the time. She taught me that. Just because she has depression doesn’t mean she needs to be protected by me or anyone else for that matter. The fact that she’s still here and is living with this disease proves she’s plenty strong enough on her own.
The night after she told me, I went home and did some research so that I could be as helpful as I could. One of the things I found out about mental diseases is that diseases like depression are very much biological problems rather than just a result of being in a bad situation. My best friend wasn’t depressed because she’s had a horrible life. On the contrary, she’s depressed because her brain wasn’t producing enough serotonin, the neurotransmitter that influences mood.
While not easy to manage, once her doctors found the right mix of medication, her brain was functioning just like yours and mine and her suicidal thoughts disappeared. It’s still something she constantly has to live with. After a year of counseling and her friends and family by her side, she’s dealing with her depression and is looking forward to going to college in the fall and beginning the next portion of her life.
Going through this with her taught me a lot about strength and friendship. She showed me that human beings are resilient creatures. We all deal with our own problems and we all have the power to rise against them. She taught me that just being there for someone can do wonders. You don’t have to be extremely knowledgeable on a topic or know what to do or say all of the time. Just being there and sitting with someone, showing them they’re loved, can heal.
That being said, mental diseases do require medical help, including anything from eating disorders to depression to schizophrenia. As a friend of someone with a mental disease, the best you can do is help them get the help they need, either by telling a parent or guidance counselor if need be, or just being there for them.
If you’re scared and you don’t know what to do, talk to them about it. (Chances are they’re scared too.) Do some research to familiarize yourself with that particular disease. You might be surprised to find out that some of the popular stereotypes are just misconceptions. Respect their wishes. If they don’t want any of your other friends to know, keep their secret as long as it doesn’t put them in danger. (Parents, however, are fair game if you can’t provide the help your friend needs to be healthy.)
Above all, be a friend to them, a true friend. Keep in touch if they need to go away for the best treatment. Be there if they want to talk. Share your secrets just like before. Be supportive and let them know that they are loved and they are not alone in this world. It’s scary and unexpected and sometimes you won’t know what to do right off the bat, but be yourself. You don’t have to know what to do. Their fate doesn’t rest on your shoulders alone. Simply be there for them. Knowing about their disease doesn’t make them any different from the person you had sleepovers with or the person you told all of your secrets to. They trusted you with this for a reason. Prove them right.